The Myth of Sisyphus

“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”― Walter Anderson

Standing rocks and skyIf I had my drothers, I’d get up every morning and write until I couldn’t sit at the computer any longer. Then I’d go to the next thing that I love doing. But, that’s not the way life works. One thing I dislike to do with a passion, is house work. But, of course it needs to be done, over and over again. As I was beginning my spring cleaning chores this weekend, I was reminded of a long discussion in one of my literature classes when I was in undergraduate school. We were reading The Plague by Albert Camus, and during our discussion of the book, our instructor began talking about an essay Camus wrote about the myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was King of Corinth. One day as he was out hunting, he saw the largest, most beautiful eagle he’d ever seen. He thought it was carrying something in it’s talons. When he returned home, he was told that his daughter had been carried away by a huge eagle. Suspecting that Zeus was the abductor, Sisyphus asked him for his help in recovering his daughter. Now Zeus took offense, because no one was supposed to know that he wasn’t perfect, and liked to seduce young human women. So, he condemned Sisyphus to Hades, to roll a rock up the mountain, only to have it roll down, and then to go to the bottom to roll the rock up the mountain again. During our discussion, our instructor asked us to consider this quote from Camus’ essay, “The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I didn’t understand the quote at the time, but I decided to contemplate its meaning. It took me many years. How can we find meaning in seemingly meaningless tasks? One day, as I was washing the dishes, we didn’t have a dishwasher in that house, I was looking out at an old and beautiful tree in the yard across the street. It’s leaves and branches were dancing in the wind. That’s when I understood what Camus meant by his assertion that struggle is enough to make us happy. At the time I was doing a chore, which I dreaded doing, but I had the benefit of looking at that beautiful tree whenever I was in the kitchen. Every activity is a double sided coin. There are pleasant and unpleasant aspects to it. When we go on vacation, it’s a magical time. But, each day, there are fewer days to enjoy away from the drudgery of our daily routines.

When we’re engaged in doing things we love, there are also aspects of it which are not so wonderful. For example, I love to write. Yet, there are times when the words don’t flow easily. The ideas that want to come out are not fully formed, or they’re buried under lots of layers of unhealed stuff. Not to mention the length of time it takes to produce the work. I’ve been working on my novel for four years, and though I’m nearing the end of the process, I still have lots of editing and revision work to do before it’s ready for publication.

The flip side is true for doing things we dread. As I was cleaning our bedroom this weekend, I was thinking of how nice it was going to be to sleep in a clean room. I had the curtains open, and periodically, I’d look out at the beauty of the view and wildlife. The joy of life is not in the tasks we must do to keep our lives going. It’s in taking time to appreciate the ordinary moments of connection, and the beauty around us. It’s also in knowing that we’re still here; we’re still alive, and can find meaning in everything that happens to us.

Camus would definitely disagree with me, because in his philosophy, life is absurd as is our search for meaning. But, the way I interpret his quote, is that to stay alive and struggle, is the ultimate revolt against the absurd in which we live. Now, I can’t say I agree with him about the world being absurd and without meaning. However, there are certainly absurd aspects to life. Nevertheless, I can say that I agree that as we continue with life we can find happiness, if we look for it, even amidst the mundane repetitive tasks we must do everyday.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

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13 thoughts on “The Myth of Sisyphus

  1. Harvey Stanbrough

    Good post.

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  2. Felice Dayhoff

    Really enjoyed this one, Lucinda!

    Felice Dayhoff Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Good post, Lucinda, although I sometimes think Camus is right 🙂 ‘…to appreciate the moments of connection, and the beauty around us,’ is probably the most important thing we can do in a day. This post reminded me of the book, ‘Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life’ by Thomas Moore, (not the guy in England!). It’d be a good book to re-read. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  4. Oh, Lucinda. I can connect. I hate housework, likely with some of that same passion you feel for washing dishes. But, oddly, I enjoy washing dishes. I would gladly do that any time of day. Warm water. Suds. Immersing my hands in that warm. Repeating. Oooh. Delicious! But let me tell you, the dust bunnies in my house feel secure!

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  5. Wow…that is one hard lesson to learn, but one everyone should strive to embrace. It would be a much more peaceful world if that idea were applied throughout all aspects of life. Although I am a bit of a Nihilist, (in nature not necessarily in philosophy) I do try to take “baby-steps” in appreciating the duality of taking the bad with the good (and vice versa).

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  6. Alan, I guess I’m perverse in that way. I go for the hard lessons. Thanks for your comment.

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  7. Reblogged this on Komorebi 木漏れ日 and commented:
    “Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.” ―Walter Anderson

    So begins this insightful blog piece at…

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